Why we need to stop pretending being overweight is fabulous
So this is an issue that's been preying on my mind for a long time.
I'm not sure if it was a US thing as well, but Dove recently ran an advertising campaign called 'real beauty', showing women who were overweight and/or curvy instead of the traditional thin toned women. I mean, the women in the advert weren't ugly, they were all pretty women, but they were overweight. I'm not going to try and say that no one finds curves attractive, or that fat girls will never get dates, because that isn't true. What I am opposed to, however, is promoting the idea of being overweight. Actually advertising it as being okay. Is this not the exact opposite of government campaigns to try to get people to eat more healthily? (Speaking as someone from the UK, there have been 'change for life' adverts all over the TV recently, imploring people to eat more healthily and be more active.
So why is it okay to advertise obesity as being just as good as being at a healthy weight?
I mean, you could argue that the campaign was supposed to help women who are overweight to feel better about themselves, because the opposite - starving yourself to death - is just as unhealthy, and because people can eventually spiral into that because of societal pressure to be thin, because it's implied you're not attractive if you're not. However, anorexia is a lot less common than obesity, and in this country (UK) around half the population is currently overweight.
And sorry girls (and boys) but being overweight is unattractive, and for good reason.
Yes, I am a girl, no, I am not overweight, no, that does not mean I don't worry about my weight. You may cry 'But love doesn't judge! Everybody is beautiful!' However, the very idea of beauty centres around the fact that not everyone can be beautiful. It's as simple as that - if everyone were beautiful, then no one would be. It takes all meaning out of the word.
And yes, it's true that being overweight was once an attractive feature, in both men and women. Painters like Rubens used to paint very fat women, because they were attractive. In this country, which has been an imperial nation for some time, three or four hundred years ago it was still fashionable to be overweight, because only the rich could afford to be. And you're not necessarily shallow or materialistic if you're attracted to richer people - it's a Darwinian thing.
I suppose I should define what it really means to be attractive. To be attractive is to possess qualities that are desirable in a reproductive partner. The same principle applies to animals - survival of the fittest, with the fittest being the most attractive. This doesn't necessarily mean the quickest runners; it just means those best adapted to survive. In the modern world, money helps you to survive, hence it is an attractive quality. In imperial Britain, wealth often manifested itself as obesity, as rich people could afford to buy more food, and enjoy it more, eating a rich diet.
Nowadays, though, most people in the developed world can afford to feed themselves, and the focus is no longer on this in terms of the manifestation of wealth. Obesity is dependent on lifestyle, yes, but many people are genetically predisposed to being on the large side. Obesity causes a myriad of health problems, including heart attacks, joint problems, arthritis, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes. Overweight people are also more likely to die young - hence they are less likely to survive, and are not the best adapted. So obesity has fallen out of favour - it has been replaced by things such as high-powered jobs.
You may say, So what? I can be as fat as I like, and I don't care if people don't like it. Besides, I'm overweight and I get plenty of dates. I love my curves.' The annoying thing, however, about people loving their curves, is that skinny people are now victimised for being thin - for being vain about their appearance, and that men don't go for bones etc. That's not what it's about. It feels nice to be thin - anyone who has lost lots of weight will tell you that - and a healthy weight for most people looks skinny. Not skin and bones (as being anorexically thin gives the impresson - biologically speaking - that you can't feed youself, so people might not find that attractive either), but not fatty either. Going back to our Darwinianism, being thin and toned can also mean you are fit and athletic, strong and enduring - definitely beneficial characteristics. And do you really want the agonising joint pain, shortness of breath and constant risk of strokes, diabetes or heart attacks to worry about? Like it as not, obesity will shorten your life.
So, to conclude - we're not being size-ist when we say obesity is bad, or it's bad to be overweight. It is bad to be overweight, it's unhealthy, costs health services billions of pounds every year in this country, and sorry but you really can't blame people for not finding you attractive - some will, but it really is hardwired into our DNA. Be whatever size you want, sure - but make sure you're prepared for the demeaning potentially self-esteem-ruining and life threatening consequences.
Originally published on January 22, 2014.